Objectives of Risk Communication

Communication, not science, is the heart of risk communication. Regardless of subject matter and level of risk - whether reporting an outbreak of a devastating animal disease, announcing a GM crop field test, or talking to people living near a chemical spill - risk communication seeks to:

• Better educate the public about risks, risk assessment, and risk management

• Better inform the public about specific risks and about actions taken to alleviate them

• Improve communicators' understanding of public values and concerns

• Provide a mechanism for the public to voice concerns

"Danger is real, but risk is socially constructed."

basic rules for risk communication and offer practical guidance in communicating effectively.12

• Increase mutual trust and credibility

• Reduce conflicts or controversies

• Promote transparency in the regulatory process

Part of the difficulty in communicating about biotechnology and biosafety is overcoming negative perceptions that already may be ingrained in public opinion. Common perceptions include:

• Companies put profit ahead of safety.

• Government regulators are either politically motivated, technically unqualified, or lack legitimate authority.

• Companies are untruthful in discussing risks and will lie if it serves their purposes.

• Scientists working in the private sector are unscrupulous or have been "bought."

• Developing countries are used as a dumping ground for products not approved elsewhere.

• The public is forced to assume the risk but gets none of the benefit.

It is important to note that some such perceptions do in fact arise from experience. Too often, however, public opinion about biotechnology is based on misperceptions of risk fueled by insufficient or inaccurate information. More fully informed opinions can arise only when people have a better and more realistic understanding of how biotechnology will affect their immediate lives and the environment in which they live. Risk communication is thus an important first step towards public dialogue concerning the development and use of GMOs. The following sections provide some of the

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